Sermon. Ascension 16th May 2021
Acts 1:1-11, Psalm 93. Eph 1:15-23. Mark 16:15-20
As we come closer to the end of this season of Easter, today we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The Ascension marks the moment when Jesus leaves the earth to return to the Father but it also signals the beginning of the church with Jesus telling the disciples of the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Ascension does not mark for us an ending, rather it is a new beginning, a new birth for the Church.
This is the moment when the Disciples heard Jesus speak of the promise of the Holy Spirit which we will celebrate next Sunday at Pentecost. This is the moment Jesus words about ‘abiding in him’ mean so much more to the disciples and ought also to us. In John chapter 14, from verse 19, Jesus instructed the disciples about this day. ‘In a little while the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you are in Me, and I am in you.’ (John 14:19-20). It is why Jesus spent quite a lot of time using this kind of language with the disciples in his final discourse in John’s gospel. Speaking of abiding in Christ. The disciples would now come to realise the reality of these words.
But there is so much more to Ascension, and why it is for the church such an important date in the church calendar. It is too important to gloss over. Jesus Ascension becomes the key that unlocks the very meaning of our live and the plan of God for the entire created order. Jesus, the Head of the body ascends to the Father, and it is now up to the body to abide in Christ, to live out the message of the gospel, to be his witnesses in word and deed. Saint Augustine wrote in his Sermon on John chapter 10, that Jesus being ‘the Head of the Church, and the Church … His Body and that in His Body the unity of the members and the bond of charity (love), as it were, its sound health’. The very life and health of the church, rests in our abiding in Christ. The Ascension is not about separation, it’s not about abandonment, it is about the unity of the Head Jesus Christ and the Body the Church, you and I, now dwelling and abiding and following the head.
St Augustine, in his sermon on the Ascension, states that ‘Christmas gave Jesus Christ our Saviour to earth; the Ascension restored him to heaven. At Christmas… [Jesus] assumed our humanity; on the day of his Ascension he manifested his divinity’. … At Christmas his Father sends him; at the Ascension the Father receives him.’ I would encourage you to look up the references, particularly this second one and read Saint Augustine’s sermon on the Ascension. He speaks of taking joy and celebration in the Ascension of Jesus. It is the fulfillment of Jesus life and ministry on earth.
In Acts chapter 1 we discover that Jesus presented himself to the disciples after his resurrection, providing ample proof of who he claimed to be, speaking to them about the kingdom of God for forty days. The same Jesus who had been mocked, flogged and unjustly condemned to death, rose from the grave to testify to the disciples who he was. After the resurrection, Jesus also showed himself to many other people in preparation of the day he would Ascend to the Father.
At the end of these forty days, ‘all the disciples were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight’ (Acts 1:9). The disciples then stood, watching, arching their heads back as Jesus ascended. Then two angels, two men dressed in robes of white ‘”stood beside them and said ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken from you into heaven will return in the same way you have seen him going into heaven”’ (Acts 1:11). The angels or messengers of God come to confirm to the disciples what they had witnessed, and to reassure them that they were not the victims of some illusion but rather to a marvellous experience to which they would go on to testify of, not only of the Ascension but also of Jesus return.
The Apostle Paul affirms for us this reality of abiding in Christ, about a new way of living, a new way of being, living and abiding in Christ now. IN Paul’s letter to the Galatians he wrote, ‘No longer do I live but Christ lives in me and the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God (Galatians 2:19, 20). This is the life we are invited to live in now.
So how are we doing. The Ascension of Jesus is an invitation to each one of us to reassess our relationship between our profession of faith and the reality of that in our everyday lives. The Apostle Paul encouraged the Corinthian Christians to ‘Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realise that Jesus Christ is in you? ( 2 Cor 13: 5).
The Ascension of Jesus is for us a celebration. It marks the moment Jesus, the head of the church returns to the Father, so that you and I, the body of Christ, can abide in Christ. Let not Ascension be a day that just passes you by. Let it be a day of rejoicing and great joy, for Christ having come in humanity at Christmas, now returns in all his divinity to God and the Church is born anew to live and abide in Christ’s presence with us. Jesus promised he would not leave us orphaned but would be with us and in us, and sent the promise of the Holy Spirit to come and empower each one of us to be his witnesses here on earth in word and deed.
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen. Uh